Tag Archives: revision

Revision—To Quit or To Quilt?

I’m going to give it to you straight.

Writing is challenging enough, but to revise a manuscript—to critically reconsider each element and rework it—takes next-level commitment. Everything matters, from the tiniest detail to a panoramic vision of the whole.

The word revise is of French origin and means, “to see again.” At some point in the creative process, your writing must be seen afresh, and no one can do that like you. You, after all, envisioned your idea and with the barest of materials—imagination, emotion, words—undertook to create something both beautiful and useful. Because of you, a unique manuscript came into the world, and at some point, you will strive to revise it. Your instincts about this prospect are correct, at least in part.

Correct:

-It will be demanding and will require a fresh outpouring of determination.

Incorrect:

-You can’t do it.

You can and moreover, you will. Why? Because you love and believe in your manuscript. Trust me, you wouldn’t have gotten this far if you didn’t. If you didn’t believe in your story and in your ability to tell it, then all the notebooks, colorful thumb drives, or even that pesky laptop would be mouldering in a drawer.

Like my single, sorry attempt at a quilt.

Sure, I bought the supplies. I had coordinating fabrics, the roll-y cutting blade thing, and the self-healing mat. I had templates, thread, and batting. I read the directions. I even had middling good intentions.

I barely got started. Turns out, my heart isn’t drawn to fabric and batting, and I can’t cut a triangle to save my life. I wasn’t committed and before long, I knew it. I put my quilt stuff in a drawer and moved on.

I deeply admire quilters. I’m dazzled by the skill and artistry required to make even a basic quilt. I appreciate quilting’s history, its regional and cultural variations, and its stitch-by stitch manifestation of mathematical understanding and applied color theory. Behold this gorgeous example:

Now that I’ve tried my hand at quilting, I esteem these creators and their profoundly beautiful, profoundly useful, something-from-nearly-nothing coverlets much more. Their commitment to each one is self-evident.

I admire writers too. Their next-level commitment to creating the profoundly beautiful and profoundly useful is self-evident. Which brings me back to revision.

I don’t care if your manuscript is a 15-word board book or a Game Of Thrones-esque monster, you’ve come this far and will persist. With the courage of your convictions, you’ll disassemble your writing as laboriously as you pieced it together. You’ll pull it apart at the seams, tease out the stitches, and cut where you must to shred what was whole into back bright scraps. You’ll re-see it. And then—here comes the magic—you’ll bring it back together. The final result will be soft and strong, colorful, useful, and durable. It will offer comfort and cheer, warmth and inspiration. Born of tireless work and loving patience, of an open mind and a more open heart, it will be a wonder.

And that’s the truth.

—————————————————————————————————————————

A few picture books about quilting:

Patricia McKissack and Cozbi A. Cabrera’s STITCHIN’ and PULLIN’Stitchin and PullinGeorgia Guback’s LUKA’S QUILT.

Luka's Quilt

Ann Whitford Paul and Jeanette Winter’s EIGHT HANDS ROUND.

Quilt image credit: Soldier’s Quilt, Artist unidentified, Probably United States, Canada, or Great Britain, 1854–1890, Wool melton, 67 x 66 1/2 in. American Folk Art Museum


I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. It will be illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka.
I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

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Filed under Advice, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Inspiration, Uncategorized, Writing

Heading Back, Trying Again

4209645736_4121bae310_b

Tejas

Last week, my husband and I took our young son down to visit his relatives in Texas. We flew into Dallas first, then boarded another plane to fly way down south to McAllen. Air travel is tedious in the first place. Add a small child to the mix and it becomes a high-energy challenge to make sure said child is kept busy enough not to annoy everybody else on the plane. When we began our final descent into McAllen, we were relieved, to say the least. Our uncomfortable slog was almost done. Soon we would collect our bags, check into the hotel, and start the vacation.

We were flying over the landing strip – we could barely see the runway beneath us, through a thick mist of low clouds – when the plane pulled sharply up and began to climb. The captain’s voice crackled over the PA. “They’re telling us not to land, due to weather conditions. We’re going to try to divert to Corpus Christi. Don’t worry, folks, we have plenty of gas.”

Ugh.

We got to Corpus. Same thing again. Bad weather. Couldn’t land. “We’re going to have to head back to Dallas and try again later.”

Malcolm

My son, four years ago, immediately after his very first long plane ride. “That was really stupid, Mommy,” his adorable face seems to say.

NOOOOOOOOOOO.

The plane turned around. My son, who had believed he was about to escape from confinement and get sneaked lots of pieces of early Easter candy by his loving relatives, now had to sit through not one but two more plane rides. He threw himself to the floor in front of his seat and cried “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO DALLAS!” (Since this was exactly how every adult on the plane wanted to react but could not, nobody minded the display.)

The reason I share this story is that, right now, I have to revise a long novel in short order. I’ve already revised this sucker a couple of times, but it still requires some pretty extensive rebooting, and frankly? I don’t want to go to Dallas. I didn’t anticipate that I would have to go all the way back to Dallas. Corpus Christi, sure, a quick diversion – but back from whence I came? NOOOOOOOOOOO. *throws fit on cabin floor* See, to me, the story seemed to be landing beautifully. I could see the runway fine. I didn’t know there was a problem. But as it turns out, there’s some bad weather, so if I really want to reach the destination, then there’s just nothing for it but to circle back and try again.

The worst part is, now that the bad weather has been pointed out to me, I can see it. There it is. Yep. I do have to go back to &*$#ing Dallas. And while I’m sure that, deep down, I do have enough gas to get me there, it doesn’t feel like it right now. My debut is coming out in two weeks (insert ONE MILLION HOORAYS!), which is a huge and exciting big deal that has me completely off kilter. I’ve found it impossible to keep up my usual levels of productivity.

1419016087843 (1)

A Christmas gift from one of my students, since I am always after them to revise. Lately, every day, this thing mocks me from the cupboard.

Luckily, there are other people with me on this flight. Just seeing them there and knowing that they understand exactly how I feel is enough to keep me sane. The lovely and talented Tara Dairman, whose debut novel launched last year, was in Seattle a few weeks ago, so a few of us EMLA folks in the area met up for dinner. Being out with Tara, Laurie Thompson, Jeanne Ryan, and Trish Toney Lawrence was delightful and bracing. At one point in the conversation, I admitted that I’m just not writing the way I usually do, and it’s really scaring me. Tara (who is now working on the third book in her series) replied, “That’s normal. On the Fourteeners board, there was a whole thread about how none of us could write anymore, now that our first books were launching. It’ll pass, you’ll be fine.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I know that she’s right. Just yesterday, I found myself mentally problem solving some of the manuscript’s biggest issues, and I was excited about the possible solutions. So while it might be uncomfortable and tedious, I’ll get there. Sure, I might have to go back and sit in the airport. Eat a soggy, twelve-dollar sandwich. Stay a night at the Ramada and then climb back into the same clothes again tomorrow.

But I’ll get there.

HiRes_Morrison_6814_crop Megan Morrison is a mom, a middle-school teacher, and the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, due out April 28 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. Visit her at meganmorrison.net.

 

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Writing

Preparing to Leap

small__3965231381I’ve been working on my final edits for Book Scavenger. I began this novel over ten years ago, and I’ve always had the comfort of knowing whatever I put down on paper could be changed. Now I have about two weeks left of revising and fiddling, and then the version I send back to my editor will pretty much be the one that appears in stores. This is exciting and totally terrifying.

It’s terrifying because there’s no turning back now. There are nerves about sharing my writing with a wider audience. I hope people will like my book. I don’t want to disappoint friends and family who have supported me over the years. I want my editor and agent and critique partners to be proud of my book.

It’s exciting because I love my book. Over ten years ago, I set out to write a story I would have loved as a kid. I drew on some of my favorite things from childhood: Goonies; It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World; The Westing Game; The Egypt Game; From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It took me drafts and drafts and drafts to get all the pieces of my story to work together in a way that finally represented the characters and world I held in my imagination. It’s not a perfect book–I doubt I will ever write something that I would consider perfect–but I love it nonetheless.

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing what I feel in this moment is similar to something I worry about as a mother: How will the world treat this piece of my heart that I love and have nurtured? Will people buy it, praise it, recommend it? Will they hate it, trash it, make fun of it? Will they ignore it?

The fate of my book will soon be out of my hands and literally in the hands of others. These last moments I have with Book Scavenger are me doing my best to prepare my baby for the big, wide world out there.

It helps that I recently saw the rough sketches for interior illustrations. Not only was this an incredibly happy, surreal moment, but it helped me detach from the book as “mine”. The incredible Sarah Watt‘s rendering of the characters is going to go hand-in-hand with a reader’s consumption of my words. When I think of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I think of Quentin Blake’s illustrations. When I imagine Tara Dairman’s Gladys Gatsby, I picture Kelly Murphy’s drawings. When I picture Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web, I picture Garth Williams illustrations.

So this is all part of my process right now. Final edits, fact-checking, fussing with words, and preparing myself to let go, step back, and let Book Scavenger leap out of the nest.

 

____________________________________

jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

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Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Writing in One Layer

In Photoshop, you can build a complex image using layers.  Layers are images that are stacked on top of each other like cellophane, with individual elements of the design or illustration existing on individual layers.

Background

Here’s a background layer.

BackgroundCircle

Here’s a yellow circle layer on top.

BackgroundCircleRed

I am awesome at this.

Images are stacked in this way so that they can be easily separated into manageable segments. This allows an artist to remove or make changes to various pieces of the work without having to recreate the entire thing.  That red squiggle needs to be orange?  Great.  Select the layer with the squiggle, change the color, and everything else can stay as is.  Easy peasy.

The more complex and layered an image, the more segmented it is. That’s great for small changes, but not for big sweeping ones. In order to make holistic changes to the work, the artist has to go in and edit each individual layer.

Hold up.  This is a writing blog, right?  Why am I talking about Photoshop?

A few weeks ago, at LeakyCon, I had the pleasure of being in the room for a Q&A with Kazu Kibuishi, the writer/artist behind the AMULET graphic novel series and the cover illustrator of the 15th-Anniversary editions of the American Harry Potter books.  He is a stellar talent.  While showing us several drafts of his cover illustration for CHAMBER OF SECRETS, he mentioned that he had drafted those images in one layer.

I was surprised.  The images Kazu showed us didn’t even look like drafts.  They were complex, beautiful, detailed paintings – and he had done them all in one layer, with no segmentation.  Why?  Wouldn’t that slow him down, if he needed to make changes?

In fact, he said it does the opposite.  He learned from watching artists Chris Appelhans and Khang Le that when drafting in Photoshop, it’s freeing to do all the initial work in one layer.  It allows him to paint with confidence, make decisions faster, and minimize production choices.  Because drafting isn’t about making production choices.  It’s not about self-censorship.  It’s about getting your ideas down authentically, in service of creating a compelling work of art.

Well, I thought about that.  I chewed on it for days.  Because it’s not just a strategy for working in Photoshop – it’s a philosophy.  Draft with confidence.  Minimize choices.  Don’t make production decisions too early.  Save layers for later, when you know more.  Just paint.

Or in my case, just write.

When I was newer to writing and not yet thinking about publication, I mostly wrote fan fiction – thousands of pages of it. I wrote it very, very fast.  Unless I got really stuck, I didn’t spend time pondering or fussing.  I just followed the bird in flight, chasing the idea as fast as I could and giving myself as much enjoyment as possible in the process.  I didn’t worry whether that page of witty banter was pure stuffing or whether the kiss I was writing drove the plot enough to be worth keeping.  It was fanfic, so I just wrote it to make myself happy, painting words with fast strokes, making the movie in my head come alive in the narrative.

Now I’m writing original fiction, under contract (hooray!), and I find myself slowing down. Thinking ahead. Manipulating the layers before I know what the whole picture looks like.  Editing earlier than necessary.  This wasn’t true with the first book of the series – I wrote that first draft without knowing what the full editorial process would entail, and without second guessing my choices.  With this second book, however, I hovered over myself a little bit as I drafted, questioning things that didn’t need to be questioned yet.

Immediately after Kazu’s Q&A, I sat down for a long chat with my editor, Cheryl Klein, about how to approach the revision of the second book in the series I’m writing.  One of her suggestions was that I should concentrate on the romance more.  I share this because anyone who knows me or my writing well will find it odd that I’d ever need to be given this note; I have a tendency to dive pretty deep into the romance.  I love, love, love to write the romance.  If anything, in the past, I’ve needed to pull back on the romance.  But because I’ve been drafting with too much of my brain focused on technical maneuvering and not enough of it focused on simply following the flow, I lost my romantic guts, a little, in this recent draft.  I pulled back before I’d reached the destination.

So I’ve decided to take Kazu’s Photoshop philosophy and apply it to my revision. One layer. No tinkering. Not yet. In the past week, I’ve blown through almost a hundred pages, including a couple of brand-new scenes that were incredibly fun to write and felt totally self indulgent. And maybe it’ll turn out that they are totally self indulgent and have to be removed.  I don’t care.  The romance is flowing.  The questions are vanishing.  The inner editor is on forced hiatus.

I’m not saying that fast is best (speed is a personal thing for authors – we each have our own process, and pace is part of that).  Rather, if you ever find yourself getting in your own way and picking at your choices too early, try visualizing your draft as something that’s pouring out in one uncensored layer, and see if it sets you free.

 

HiRes_Morrison_6861_cropMegan Morrison is the author of GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL, due out summer 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic. GROUNDED is the first book in the Tyme Series, co-created with Ruth Virkus. You can follow Megan on her blog at makingtyme.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @megtyme. She is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

 

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Filed under Advice, Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Creativity, Editing and Revising, Editor, Illustrators, Satisfaction, Writing

Revision Indecision

Title for post.
Discussing Revision
No.
Revision Process
No.
Have You Ever?
No.
A Visit With Revision
Better.
Indecision About Revision
Maybe.
Revision Indecision
OK. I’m going with this title before I decide to change my mind.

And that, folks, is how the past week has been. I’m revising a manuscript for the umpteenth time! Seriously, the umpteenth time. Second guessing myself with every sentence. Rewriting. Oh, who am I fooling? Second guessing myself with every word. Rewriting. Changing my mind. Rewriting. Should I go with this . . . or should I go with that? See? Revision Indecision!

Thing is, I’m so excited about this story! And I think when I get it right that it will be my favorite thing I’ve written—ever. But Revision Indecision (yeah, that title still works) is killing me. I’ve read through all the blog posts, articles, etc. that I’ve accumulated in my Gmail folder labeled “Revision Tricks and Tips”. Note to self-I need to revise that folder title. There are no tricks. Nope. No short cuts. No rabbits-pulled-from-hats. Just hard work.

But, this is what I think. When I do get it right the indecision will stop. I’ll know that I’ve chosen the right sentences and the right words. That’s what happened with my manuscript that sold. I just had this feeling of finished. My heart said it was ready to show my agent. I wasn’t second guessing anymore. I was happy.

So while I don’t like this feeling of Revision Indecision, I know I have to put up with it. It’s just part of the journey to that feeling of finished.

Now, quick! I need to hit “Publish” before I start having Revision Indecision about this post!

_________________________________
penny3Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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Filed under Discipline, Editing and Revising, Patience, Picture books, Satisfaction

Writing Is Hard

I wouldn’t call myself a “novelist.” It’s one of those words of which I have an irrational dislike. I picture novelists sitting around in damask lounges where I’m not allowed, smoking tiny cigarettes, wobbling their big brains at each other and speaking about Humanity without separating their teeth.

But I have written 4 novels so far, which is about 3 3/4 more than most people, and considerably fewer than Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett

Unless you’re Stephen Hawking, this man is smarter than both of us put together.

Anyway, the way you write a novel is you think of a character and then you have your character do something, usually while whining about it, for about three hundred pages. If you want to write a young adult novel, which is what I do, you do the same thing, except . . . well, you just kind of do the same thing. I don’t know.

The thing is, what many critically-acclaimed novels have in common is that they “make sense.” This is where I usually have trouble. Oh, things start well. They hum along. And then I reach the 3/4 mark, and something is wrong. Let me explain it using word puzzles.

I enjoy word puzzles. I get those variety packs with all the different kinds. Here’s one I did called “Simon Says.” The idea is you write the phrase they tell you to, and then there are step by step instructions on how to change it a little at a time, and at the end, surprise! There’s a different phrase there!

Here’s the beginning:

puzzle1

So far, so good. Looks like we’re on our way to turning “Spring Training” into “All Star Game,” which is what happened about halfway through. But “All Star Game” was just a little divertissement in the middle. The real finale was to be “World Series,” revealed at Step 18.

Only something went horribly, horribly wrong.

Here is my Step 18:

puzzle2

That’s right. “LDORDWSURIFJ.” This is not a case of “BORLD SERIES.” This is a major issue. Something effed up went down somewhere, and I have no idea what it was. It could be one rogue letter, or an entire step missing, or I could have read one of the directions wrong. Anything. And from that moment, little things began to fall subtly out of place until the snowball effect reached its terrible pinnacle at Step 18.

That’s what happens with novels sometimes. They say if your ending is wrong, it’s not really your ending that’s wrong, and that’s probably true. But the gentle musing over whether a different angle or lighting might make your denoument more effective is completely different from the sickening feeling that arises from getting to the top of your dramatic arc to realize your story is running naked through the woods like a lunatic. At that point, there’s nothing to do but go back and pick everything apart to find the rogue letter that will set it all right again.

And as I quietly weep over my 3/4 novels, my only solace is that, probably, other writers have faced this kind of thing before. And maybe they didn’t even have blogs. Maybe they just had to write whiny little notes on their parchment or whatever: Writing is hard.

shakespeare
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This is an updated version of a post that previously appeared on my blog. I hope you enjoy it anyway.

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Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Helpful or Otherwise, Plotting, Uncategorized, Writing

If the shoe fits…it may end up at the castle

I’m doing revisions on a fractured fairy tale. I want to get it all polished up and out on submission. Revisions are hard for me. I’m slow! It really is like scrubbing floors and sweeping cinders. And at times I hear voices in my head that sound very much like an evil stepmother and two cruel stepsisters telling me I can’t do it.

But, I love this story and I know for it to have a happily-ever-after that it can’t just show up at the ball. There’s going to have to be some magic involved and guess who has to wave the wand?
Not my critique group!
Not my agent!
But, me! Hard or not, I’m going to have to wave the wand and write the magic words.

Don’t get me wrong . . . my critique group and my agent are an important part of this. They may suggest the mice or the pumpkin. They may remind me to add tension…like a clock striking midnight. All of this will help move my story toward the ball. But I’m the one whose words will have to waltz with Prince Editor. I’m the one who will have to have that spit and shine that will make Prince Editor fall so in love with my story that when I leave the hint of a glass slipper, he will see a perfect fit for the castle (publishing house).

So, hard or not, I’ll scrub the floors and I’ll sweep the cinders. I’ll block out the nagging voices. I’ll keep revising until my words waltz. And somewhere between a pumpkin coach and midnight, the glass slipper may be just get my book into the castle and out into the kingdom.

_________________________________
penny3Penny Parker Klostermann’s debut picture book, There Was An Old Dragon, is coming from Random House Children’s Publishing Fall 2015. You can follow her on Twitter @pklostermann and visit her blog HERE. Penny is represented by Tricia Lawrence.

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The Numbers, or, How Writing a Book Is Like Giving Birth

Numbers 7/52

Before embarking on a second career as a writer, I was a software engineer. I majored in applied mathematics in college. Obviously, I enjoy using the analytical parts of my brain as much as the artistic ones. So now that both BE A CHANGEMAKER (my young-adult nonfiction) and MY DOG IS THE BEST (my fiction picture book) are in copyedits, I thought I’d reflect a little on some of the behind-the-scenes numbers involved in these 2 very different creative endeavors.

I knew when BE A CHANGEMAKER was acquired that it was going to be a lot of work in a short period of time: I’d sold it on proposal as a 20,000-word book that would take me 1 year to write, but they wanted at least 45,000 words in 5 months. I was open with the publisher that I wasn’t sure if I could do it (I’m a SLOW writer), but that I would give it my best shot. I dove in and started researching like crazy.

Almost immediately, life threw me a curveball, and I lost pretty much the first 2 months to an unexpected surgery, recovery, and ensuing complications. Things began to look pretty hopeless. Because of the time constraints, I was already drafting on the fly, sending it to the acquisitions editor, and incorporating her feedback as I went along. I became a much faster writer than I ever thought possible, but I still couldn’t quite get there in time. The editor and I strategized on what the highest priority pieces were and what could be left for later. TKWhen I submitted the “final” draft on the original deadline, the manuscript was a not-entirely-off-the-mark 42,200 words, but with 10 known holes left as TK, “to come” later. I continued working to fill in the TK pieces while the manuscript moved on to a full developmental edit round.

Since it had already been through 1 round of editing and the feedback I’d been getting was that it was in pretty good shape, I wasn’t expecting the developmental edit to be overly difficult, even though I had less than 2 weeks to do it. Wowzers, was I wrong! The marked up document I got back from the developmental editor (a different person) had 570 insertions, 414 deletions, and 339 comments, most of which were something along the lines of, “Can you please add x here?—where x was a quote, an exercise, an example, etc. They were excellent suggestions, and I knew I’d have a much better book to show for it if I could do them all! No TKBut try though I did, I still couldn’t get it all done in time: I just needed a few extra days. Luckily, the publisher was willing (bless her!). So, less than 3 weeks from receiving the revision letter, I returned a clean manuscript that was nearly 60,000 words, with 100% of the TKs removed and developmental edits accounted for. Phew!

During those weeks (and, to a lesser extent, the months that preceded them), I definitely questioned both my sanity and my career choice on more than one occasion. I told myself if I survived this experience, I would never, ever write another book like that one. Afterward, I walked around the house like a zombie for a few days, barely able to function, let alone dig out from under the piles of dirty laundry and unpaid bills that had accumulated. All of this couldn’t possibly be worth it, right?
Couch potating

Then a marvelous thing happened. Just like the pain of childbirth fades instantly when you hold your newborn child, I soon forgot the 10- to 12-hour days, the missed meals, the cramped EVERYTHING. The manuscript was accepted: I had done it! Unicorns and rainbows, kittens and puppies, walking on sunshine—that was me. I’d brought to life something that never would have existed without me, and I was on top of the world.
Unicorn

Then I moved on to completing the author questionnaire about who might like the book, review the book, use the book, etc., and THE BOOK started to become a real thing in my mind, a real thing that real people would really read! Recently, the publisher sent me the cover proofs… with my name on them! And now I’m thinking about blurbs and preliminary marketing ideas. I’ve got that floating-on-air feeling again, that hopeful exuberance that comes after an offer. Maybe, just maybe, someone out there will read my book someday and it will matter to them. What was I ever thinking? Of course it was worth it, every single minute! As Adora Svitak, one of the amazing teens I interviewed for the book, said, “It’s good to push yourself. When you really go all out for something… it’s the best feeling in the world.” She is absolutely right about that. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to do it all over again!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, MY DOG IS THE BEST clocked in at 96 words, and I just found out it went straight to copyediting with zero revisions necessary. As you can probably guess, that feels pretty darn good, too!
smiley face stress ball


Laurie Ann ThompsonLaurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, will be published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. She also has two upcoming picture books: an as-yet-untitled biography with Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House and MY DOG IS THE BEST with Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Please visit her website, follow her on Twitter, and like her Facebook page.

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Filed under Editing and Revising, Editor, Happiness, Writing and Life

Wisdom from the 2013 EMLA Retreat

As Laurie Ann Thompson mentioned on Monday, some of us were lucky enough to attend June’s EMLA annual retreat, held this year in Big Sky, Montana. For as long as I’ve been with the agency, I’ve heard tales of the amazingness of this retreat—the friendships made, the wisdom shared, the inspiration inspired by late-night conversations (and the musical stylings of in-house client band Erin Murphy’s Dog!)—and I’m here to attest that the rumors were all true. It was an incredible weekend, and I’m already scheming to go back next year.

Every morning at the retreat, there was some kind of panel or group discussion, and I did my best to take notes. One session I found particularly helpful was the “Experienced Author Panel,” which consisted of clients who have published two or more books. For us debuters, it was great to get some advice from authors who have already been around the block a couple of times, and I thought that I would share some of my favorite pieces of wisdom from that panel here on the blog.

On dealing with edits:

The reason behind a suggested edit is more important than the actual suggestion.

If a specific change that your editor is suggesting for your manuscript doesn’t feel right, try to think about the reason behind that suggestion. What, exactly, isn’t working in the manuscript as it is now? You may be able to figure out a different change to make that will solve the problem just as well.

On reviews:

Don’t believe that the review is you.

This goes for both bad reviews and good ones. If you buy into everything that the good ones say, then the bad ones will devastate you when they come out. (And they will come out.)

On being comfortable with self-promotion:

The author is a spokesperson for an entire team.

By the time your book is published, it doesn’t just belong to you, but also to your agent, your editor, your illustrator (if you have one), and a slew of other people without whose hard work it wouldn’t have hit the shelves. So if self-promotion makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that you’re speaking not only on your own behalf, but for everyone who has worked hard to make your book a success.

On celebrating:

Celebrate everything good.

This is a piece of advice I’ve heard many times before, but I can always stand to be reminded. Goodness knows that this business comes with plenty of rejection and disappointment. So when something good happens, no matter how small, celebrate it!

 

And also:

Try harder.

You need more practice.

Always be working on something new.

Have a paper and pencil with you at all times.

Surround yourself with people who support your dreams.

Honor the times when you need to stop writing and have new life experiences.

And, my personal favorite:

If you’re not scared, you’re on the wrong ride.

 

Many thanks to the experienced authors who shared their thoughts–are they wise, or what?  🙂

Readers: Which (if any) of these pieces of advice resonate most with you? What’s the best piece of writerly advice you’ve received recently? Please share in the comments!

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.

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Filed under Advice, Celebrations, craft~writing, Editing and Revising, Promotion, Writing, Writing and Life

When to Stop Asking for Feedback

Pat Z. Miller’s post on Monday, about getting great early reviews (hooray!) for Sophie’s Squash, got me thinking about feedback—the times when it’s helpful, and the times when it’s not.

Feedback Scenario #1: Early (prequery, pre-book-deal) days 

When I finished writing Gladys Gatsby (well, thought I’d finished!), the occasional friend or family member would ask me if they could read it. They probably didn’t expect the file to show up in their inbox before they’d even finished the sentence, but hey, I was a newbie author—unsure whether she’d ever be published, and desperate for readers and reactions.

The kind souls who suffered through that early draft hardly ever said anything critical about it, even when I pressed. Remember, they weren’t fellow writers, but people who were related to me, or had at least known me for a long time.

The tough love that draft really needed didn’t come its way until I took advantage of online critique opportunities and started to meet fellow aspiring novelists. And hooray for that feedback! It made the novel so much stronger, and eventually nabbed me an agent and a book deal.

Conclusion: There’s plenty of time to make big changes, so this is a good time to seek out fresh feedback on your story.

Feedback Scenario #2: The 11th hour of edits

A year and a half (and some more hard revising) later, I was on my final round of edits for my editor. I finished a section a few weeks early and had doubts about one element, so I sent it out to some fellow writers—folks I had beta’d for, and whose work I liked, but who had never read any of my writing.

These crit partners were fabulous, proposing all sorts of ingenious workarounds for the issue I had asked for help with. But the problem was that they didn’t stop there. I’d told them that I was open to any kind of feedback they might have for me…and they delivered some big-picture questions I hadn’t anticipated.

Did I really need that backstory in chapter 3? Had I thought about playing up the quirkiness more throughout?

These were issues I’d addressed in previous rounds with my editor; choices I had already made and accepted. We‘d decided together to sacrifice some quirkiness for realism, to expand the backstory to establish Gladys’s motivation for loving food. Hearing those decisions questioned by new readers—when I was otherwise basically at the polishing stage on the manuscript—was pretty disconcerting.

“You worry too much about what other people think,” my husband told me when my second-guessing finally reached a fever pitch.

“Story of my life, dude,” was my clever retort. “Now, please pass the chocolate.”

He was onto something, though—at least regarding that round of revisions. The polishing stage is probably not the time to start asking new readers for general feedback. It’s the time to trust yourself and your editor, and to commit to the choices you’ve made.

Conclusion: Close to a deadline may not be the best time for your fragile writerly psyche to invite fresh feedback.

Feedback Scenario #3: Postpublication

Your edits are done. The ink/e-ink is dry/(pixelated?). Bring on the industry reviews, newspaper columns, Amazon customers, Goodreaders, etc.!

(At least, that’s how I hope I’ll feel a year from now. Check back in with me then. 🙂 )

Conclusion: Once the book is published, there’s not much you can do to keep feedback at bay. So brace yourself.

Wise fellow writers, what do you think? Are there points in your process when you close yourselves off from feedback?

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Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.

9 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Panic, Writing